Properly Store Fresh Produce

Here is the challenge. Go to the produce department in your favorite grocery store on a busy day and simply observe. Watch the shoppers and employees.

Selecting fruits and vegetables is a hands on process. This means the people touch, feel, thumb and even sniff items. It is true that as a cantaloupe ripens the smell at the stem end becomes stronger. How many hands have touched this produce before it gets to you? How many times has it been dropped on the floor and picked up again?

With this information in mind, the first thing that should be done when you get home with the produce is to take the items out of the bag. The bag acts like a giant petri dish. It is moist, warm and filled with bacteria and germs. The quicker the produce is removed from that situation the better. If there are any overripe items with fruit fly eggs, they may actually be brought right into the kitchen.

It is clear that popping something in your mouth straight from the plastic bag is ill advised. It has been through too many hands and possibly hit the floor a couple times. It is not clean. But what are you supposed to do with fresh produce once it is out of the bag? It depends on what it is.

Potatoes and onions are best kept in a cool dry place, but they should not be kept close together. It best if these are kept in paper bags with open tops. Other items that should be kept in a cool dry place are acorn squash, pumpkins, spaghetti squash, and sweet potatoes.

Items that should ripen on the counter and then be moved to the refrigerator are peaches, avocados, plum, pears and nectarines. Nectarines should be allowed to sit on the counter after refrigeration to soften a bit before eating.

There are many items that have better flavor if they are stored on the counter top rather than the fridge. It is important to keep items that produce ethylene away from other fruits and vegetables. So on the counter top the apples, bananas and tomatoes produce ethylene gases, but taste better if left on the counter top.  Other items that should be on the counter top are cucumbers, pineapples, eggplant, grapefruit, peppers, lemons, limes, garlic, pomegranates and watermelon.

It is tempting to just toss the other items in the refrigerator in the plastic from the store. Do not do this. You can keep those bags, turn them inside out, rinse and dry them for next time, but it is important to get the produce out, check it and move it to a clean bag. These does not produce more plastic use, reuse the bags.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of any eating plan. Keep them fresh and healthy to serve for your friends and family.

Recipes Gluten Free Side Dishes for Christmas Dinner

When one of my stepdaughters was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease several years ago, I did a bit of research on this elusive disease. I learned that foods containing gluten would irritate the bowel terribly, and worse than that, gluten is found in more than just food. For instance, postage stamps, envelopes, certain bottled vitamins and supplements, and even some cosmetics, may contain some levels of gluten.

Many of the foods we all take for granted at the holidays are loaded with gluten, and with a little bit of homework, a nice meal can be easily planned around a gluten-free diet. Here are a couple of samplings:

Gluten-Free Macaroni & Cheese

2 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons margarine
2 tablespoons of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
8 ounces of gluten free macaroni
2 cups of cooked ham cut into cubes

Melt the margarine on low heat in a medium to large saucepan. Stir in flour until it become pasty. Bring to medium heat. Stir in the cheese and blend until it melts.

Cook the gluten-free macaroni al dente. Place the cooked macaroni in a greased (with margarine) casserole dish. Add the ham, and then add the cheese mixture, blending well. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

This recipe was brought to a pitch-in I attended a few years ago, ironically at the holidays. It is quite tasty.

Sweet Potato-Corn Casserole

Two large sweet potatoes

16 oz. bag frozen corn (thawed and drained)

2 cups gluten-free corn flakes

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

3 tablespoons margarine

1 cup low fat Mozzarella cheese (grated)

1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese (grated)

Lemon grass sprigs

sea salt and pepper to taste

Boil the sweet potatoes in water containing lemon grass (do not tear the sprigs; leave whole). The sprigs will become tender and soft, please remove them water and discard. Mash the sweet potatoes until smooth.from the When they’re soft, fish out the lemon grass and throw it away. Mash the sweet potatoes and set aside.

Cook the onions, peppers and margarine in a medium saucepan until translucent, but not overly cooked. Stir in the corn, and sweet potatoes and one half of the corn flakes. Mix together and pour into a greased casserole dish. Begin to layer in the following order: other half of corn flakes and cheeses, ending with cheese. Season with sea salt and pepper. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes.

Pickle magic: Turning cucumbers into pickles

Everyone loves pickles, but most people are content to buy their pickles at the grocery store. However, buying store pickles can be quite expensive, particularly as these tasty treats tend to disappear all too quickly. On the other hand, there are many methods to turn cucumbers into pickles, some of which are surprisingly simple.

The simplest way to make a small amount of pickles is to use the vinegar left behind in a finished jar of store bought pickles. Wash and slice a fresh cucumber, put the slices into the jar, screw the lid on firmly, and place the jar in the fridge. Stir the contents of the jar once a day for three or four days, or until the cucumbers change color. They are then ready to eat.

Larger amounts of cucumbers can easily be transformed into sweet bucket pickles, which are also known as fridge pickles. To start, you will need a clean one-gallon ice cream bucket with a lid.

Bucket pickles: Ingredients

5-6 garden cucumbers (peeled and sliced) or 2-3 long English cucumbers (sliced)
1 onion, sliced
2 red or green peppers, cut into strips (optional)
4 cups white sugar
2 cups white vinegar
2 Tbsp. pickling salt
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. turmeric

Bucket pickles: Procedure

1.  Wash and slice enough cucumbers to fill the bucket

2.  Layer cucumber slices with onion slices and peppers.

3.   Make a brine by mixing the sugar, vinegar, salt and spices in a pot. Slowly bring the mixture to a gentle boil while stirring, so that the sugar dissolves

4.  Pour the brine over the cucumbers in the bucket.

5.  Put the lid on the bucket and place it in the fridge.

6.  Stir the pickles once a day for three days. When the cucumbers change color from pale green to light olive green, they are pickled and ready to eat.

For a less sweet pickle, reduce the sugar to two cups and add four to six chopped cloves of garlic. For additional flavor, add a teaspoon of dried dill.

Bucket pickles will keep for up to six months in the fridge, but will probably be eaten long before the six months are up.

Other methods of making pickles include processing and fermenting.

There are literally hundreds of recipes for making processed pickles. Cooks.com has a large selection of recipes, including garlic, dill and red hot cucumber pickles, as well as a variety of recipes for pickling other vegetables.

Fermentation is a traditional, healthy method of making pickles using salt to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. The fermentation process makes nutrients in the cucumber readily available to the digestive systems, and creates a pickle which is a good source of B-complex vitamins and beneficial bacteria. Kosher and Polish pickles are popular fermented pickles. 

So for those who want to transform cucumbers into pickles, there is a recipe for everybody, from those who want to spend an easy five minutes slicing a cucumber into a jar of pickle juice to those who are tempted to explore the intricacies of fermented pickles.

Product Reviews Mr Coffee Mug Warmer

Mug warmers are a very important accessory for many coffee and tea drinkers. The fact is, when drinking a beverage that is supposed to be warm, you want it to be…well, warm. To achieve this task, you must be willing to either sip the beverage until it is gone or frequently get up from what you are doing to warm up said beverage. Either way it can become a hassle and almost make you not want to bother with coffee or tea. You do have one final option and that is to just settle for drinking a cold beverage.

Enter the solution to the problem: a mug warmer. This is a handy little device designed to keep your choice of beverage in a mug, warm. There are several companies that make these warmers and even a choice of mediums to power them, electrical outlet, USB or battery. With all of the choices and price ranges, it can be difficult to decide which one to purchase. This is where user reviews come in handy. For example, the Mr.Coffee mug warmer could be just what you are looking for, but how do you know without simply buying it and hoping? Simple, check out some positive and negative reviews about it and then make your decision.

The good

One of the things most reviewers can agree on is that it functions correctly straight out of the box. Most can also agree it keeps hot coffee hot. The overall consensus seems to be that this warmer is affordable, which is a big deciding factor for some shoppers. The Mr.Coffee mug warmer is fairly compact, therefore not taking up valuable space on a desk. Another advantage is that the warmer will accommodate different sizes of mugs.

When you put all of the positive feedback from users, the Mr.Coffee mug warmer seems to get the job done sufficiently. The bottom line is, a mug warmer is supposed to keep a mug warm. Most reviewers on Amazon.com seem to feel it does its job. 

The bad

Now to the other side of the fence. There are also bad reviews of the Mr.Coffee mug warmer. Some reviewers feel it does not keep the beverage warm enough. Some say the warmer gets too warm for the surface it is sitting on (table, desk, etc). One thing that does stand out for some users is the lack of an auto shut feature. 

If any of the downsides to this warmer are a concerning factor, then one might want to shop and compare other warmers before making a final purchase decision. It is good to weigh the good and bad reviews from people who tried this product because personal experience speaks volumes. In the end, though, you must make up your own mind if the Mr.Coffee mug is right for you.

Who knew that buying something as basic as a mug warmer could be so complicated? The truth is it is not that difficult, you simply want to get your money’s worth from anything you buy. It pays to shop around and do some research before making a purchase of any kind these days. The one thing that can really help in making a final decision is by reading consumer product reviews.

People who love their hot beverages like coffee and tea, do not take their beverages lightly. Nor do they take purchasing beverage accessories lightly. For some of these people, choosing the right mug warmer is just as important as choosing the right mug.

Recipes: Enchilada casserole in a slow cooker

Mexican food has a flavor and texture all of its own. The dishes are colorful and so full of flavor that most people have at least one favorite Mexican dish. Enchiladas are one such dish that people seem to really enjoy.

Many families enjoy enchiladas, but have a hard time figuring out how to create them at home. The following recipe is easy to prepare and delicious to eat. When you and/or your family want to try something “south of the border”, give this recipe a shot.

Ingredients

2 pounds ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon garlic powder works)
2 15 ounce cans of tomato sauce
2-3 teaspoons chili powder (more to taste if desired)
Salt and black pepper  
24 corn tortillas 
2 cans cream of chicken soup with herbs
4 cups shredded cheese (more if desired)  

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Instructions

Brown beef in skillet with garlic and onion, drain and set aside.

In a large sauce pan, combine tomato sauce and chicken soup with salt and pepper and chili powder. Heat through. Set aside.

Spray slow cooker with cooking spray.

Pour enough sauce to cover the bottom of slow cooker and then line with 4 corn tortillas.

Pour enough sauce to barely cover tortillas and then spoon beef onto each tortilla. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the beef and then cover with 4 tortillas. Repeat this step until beef is gone. 

The top layer will be tortillas; pour remaining sauce over everything and then cover with cheese.

Set slow cooker on low and simmer for 4-5 hours. Serve warm.

This recipe can easily be cut in half to accommodate smaller slow cookers.

This recipe can be altered to suit your own family/individual tastes. Feel free to experiment with spices and even adding additional ingredients. This is a good base and tastes great with sour cream. You can also try substituting flour tortillas for the corn tortillas. 

Perfect Roast Potatoes

Roast potatoes are a delicious accompaniment to many types of meals, not just the traditional roast beef. Equally, they can be prepared in a number of different ways, either in a deep fryer or in the oven. You can even select the traditional option of roasting your potatoes in animal fat or make the healthier choice of cooking them in a vegetable oil. Whichever way you choose to roast your potatoes, however, the process begins in selecting an appropriate type of potato. Specific options available will vary by location but a starchy variety is required rather than waxy.

The two recipes below are very different but each in its own way makes for delicious roast potatoes.

Baby potatoes pan roasted in sunflower oil

Allow six to eight small new potatoes per person. Wash the potatoes but leave them unpeeled and add them to a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a boil before reducing the heat to simmer for half an hour. Use a colander to drain the potatoes over your sink and return them to the pot. Put the lid on and set aside to cool completely.

Put your deep fat fryer – containing sunflower oil – on to heat to 350F. While the fryer is heating, remove the skin from the potatoes. This can usually be done simply by rubbing them gently with the ball of your thumb.

The potatoes should be deep fried for five or six minutes until golden brown and crisp. If you are frying a large quantity of potatoes, you should do so in batches as adding too many to the fryer will significantly reduce the oil temperature, increase the cooking time and affect the quality of your roast potatoes.

Lift the potatoes from the fryer in their basket and tip them in to a colander lined with kitchen paper to drain. It is a good idea to salt them at this stage as the seasoning will be more effective while they are still pan hot.

Potato chunks oven roasted in goose fat

This is probably the more recognizable form of roast potatoes for most people. One large baking sized potato per person is about the right quantity for this recipe. Peel the potato and cut in to six to eight equal sized chunks of around one inch. Add to a pot of cold, slightly salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes until the potatoes are just starting to soften. Drain, return to the pot, cover and cool.

Add a tablespoon of goose (or duck) fat per portion to a large roasting tray and place it in to the oven. Put the oven on to preheat to 400F, melting and heating the fat at the same time.

Before you remove the potatoes from the pot to the hot fat, shake the pot a little bit to fluff up the edges of the potatoes. This will give them extra crispiness when they are cooked. Very carefully put them in the hot fat and stir around with a wooden spoon to ensure even coating. Put the tray back in to the oven for twenty minutes or until they are the color you desire. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with kitchen paper to drain before service.

This method of roasting potatoes could also be used where beef or another meat has been roasted in the oven. While the meat is resting, the potatoes would be added to the hot juices and roasted in the same way.

Product Reviews Dominios new Pizza Recipe

According to USA Today, in a “2009 survey of consumer taste preferences among national chains by research firm Brand Keys, Domino’s (pizza) was last—tied with Chuck E. Cheese’s.” (Ref.1)  For a major pizza chain to tie last with a kid’s game/play place is sad and indicates Domino’s was serving up some pretty tasteless pizza.

Domino’s, one of the largest pizza delivery chains implemented a massive ad campaign recently telling customers they took customer complaints to heart and have revamped their core product.  These ads reveal that Domino’s customers have complained that the pizza crust tasted like cardboard and the sauce like ketchup.  This reviewer agrees with those statements, a major reason why my family stopped eating Domino’s.  The price was too high for something with very little taste.

Because of the new ad campaign and the hype, we decided to give Domino’s pizza another chance.  We ordered two medium, two topping pizzas taking advantage of an online coupon deal, which gave us the pizzas for $5.99 apiece.  We ordered the hand-tossed crust for both pizzas.  One pizza got marinara sauce with onions and mushrooms.  The other pizza had the robust tomato sauce with Italian sausage and shredded provolone.

The first thing that we noticed was that the pizzas smelled good.  There was an aroma similar to a pizzeria that filled our car when we picked the pizzas up from the store.  The first opening of the boxes when we arrived home was surprising.  The pizzas looked good.  They did not look like a cardboard-like replica of pizza as we felt the old style Domino’s did.  Both pizzas were fresh, steaming and smelled even more mouth-watering when the box was opened.

The pizza with the marinara, mushrooms and onions was alright.  The crust was very flavorful, not too thin and not too thick.  You could see the herbs baked into the crust and there was plenty of buttery flavor.  The crust reminded our family of the garlic and butter breadsticks from Pizza Hut.  The marinara sauce was very robust and flavorful. It tasted similar to a seasoned spaghetti sauce.  The onions and mushrooms were fresh and not overcooked.  There were plenty of toppings on the pizza.  The cheese was good, but it could have been a bit meltier.

The second pizza with robust tomato sauce was also okay.  The sauce had more flavor than the old Domino’s sauce but it was not as flavorful as the marinara.  However, our son preferred the robust tomato sauce to the marinara.  The sausage was spiced mildly and cooked well.  The shredded provolone was very good and added a slightly smokey flavor to the pizza that went well with the sausage.  Overall, the combination was good.

One criticism was that the crust was almost too buttery.  It left quite the grease mark in the bottom of the cardboard pizza box.  However, both my son and husband said the buttery flavor was one of their favorite elements of the new Domino’s recipe.

Overall, the value was decent, but only because the online coupon.  Online ordering is excellent and is recommended if available in your area.  I liked being able to build my pizza, add the coupon and then tell the store when I wanted my pizza ready.  We ordered at about 2:30 p.m. and requested our pizza to be done at 4:30 p.m.  The pizza was finished and presented to us at the store at precisely 4:30 p.m.

I would recommend trying the new Domino’s pizza if you are looking for a quick meal but only if you can use a coupon as their prices are a bit higher than other chains.  Bottomline, Domino’s new recipe is okay, not bad but nothing to really rave about.  

(Ref 1)http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2009-12-16-dominos16_ST_N.htm

Recipes Chicken Biryani Rice Biryani

Chicken biryani is an extremely popular rice dish in South Asia. Every special occasion, family gathering or a formal meal here requires chicken biryani as the main part of its menu and it is usually served with lot of pride and ceremony and of course, fresh mint yogurt.

I learned this recipe of chicken biryani from my mother-in-law and I am pleased to say that it always turns out delicious and quite mouth watering.

Total preparation time: 1-1 1/2 hrs

Serves: 8-10 people

INGREDIENTS:

There are probably scores of ways in which chicken biryani can be cooked but the basic ingredients remain the same….chicken, basmati rice, yogurt and lots of spices. So, here are the ingredients for my chicken biryani:

>3/4 kg tomatoes (cut in thin slices)

>3/4 kg onions (cut in thin slices)

> 4-6 green chilies (cut in pieces)

> 750 grams basmati rice (soaked for 15 minutes)

> I chicken (cut in 12-14 pieces)

> 250 ml fresh yogurt

> Juice of 1 lemon

> Salt and red chili powder (1 tsp each)

WHOLE SPICES FOR CHICKEN:

> 8-10 green cardamoms

> 4 black cardamoms

> 8-10 cloves

> 10-12 black peppercorns

> 2 tsp white cumin

> 2 tsp coriander seeds

> 2-3 small sticks of cinnamon

> 1 tablespoon garlic paste

> 1 thick ginger piece cut in fine strips

METHOD:

Heat oil and fry onions till crisp and golden brown. Take them out and spread on an absorbent sheet. Divide them in two parts.

In the cooking pot, cook chicken, tomatoes, garlic paste, all whole spices and half of fried onion. Add salt, red chilli powder and a little turmeric powder. After 3-4 minutes, stir and add yogurt. Cook till chicken is tender but firm and oil separates from gravy. Add ginger strips and green chilies when done.

PREPARING RICE:

While the chicken cooks, boil rice in a separate pot with salt, lemon juice and 2-3 cloves. Drain the rice when almost done. The lemon juice prevents the rice from becoming too soft. Rice that has become too soft is terrible for biryani.

In a big pot, put a layer of rice, of fried onions and 1 tsp black cumin. Add half of chicken. Put another layer of rice, rest of onions and black cumin. Top it with rest of the chicken and add some more rice. Secure the lid firmly so that no steam escapes and let it cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Stir carefully with a big flat ladle so that chicken spreads evenly. Be careful not to break the rice.

Your mouth watering biryani is ready. Serve it with fresh mint chutney or plain yogurt and enjoy.

Pepper Pepper in Food too much Pepper in Food

Pepper adds a spicy flavour to all dishes. Some people like the taste of pepper more than others and generally they have the amount to add down to a science when they are cooking. However, there are times when accidents happen, such as the top coming off the bottle as you are shaking in the pepper resulting in an extraordinary amount getting into the food. If you do nothing about it, chances are you won’t be able to eat the dish and have to throw it out and start over. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to save the dish you are cooking to counteract the taste of the pepper overwhelming the rest of the ingredients.

The first thing you need to do when you realize that you have added too much pepper to whatever dish you are cooking is to take a spoon and try to scoop out as much of it as possible. Usually the pepper will stay in the same spot making this easy to do, but you will not be able to get all of it because with the disturbance of the spoon you will disperse it throughout the rest of the ingredients. If you make this mistake when cooking soup the pepper will dissolve almost immediately, so you have to be quick to try to scoop it out.

Even when you scoop out as much of the pepper as you can the taste will probably make the food inedible. If you add a lemon cut in ¼ wedges to the dish, this will counteract the taste of pepper without adding the taste of lemon. In times when you don’t have a lemon handy, a small amount of lemon juice added to the mixture will produce the same result.

If you cut a potato in half and add it to the dish, this will also help to soak up the pepper and save the meal. Sugar also works to dispel the peppery taste in food because the sweetness helps to tone down the spicy taste. You may feel that adding more sugar will make the dish taste sweeter than it should be and while this is correct when you use the right amount of pepper, it has the opposite result when you add too much pepper.

So, the next time you accidentally overdo it with adding pepper for flavour, you don’t have to start from scratch again. You can save the meal by using these tips and perhaps create a new favourite recipe at the same time.

Product Review Kikkoman Panko Bread Crumbs

Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs by Kikkoman are an excellent choice to keep in the pantry.  This is a versatile product that allows for adaptation in many recipes.

Nutritionally Panko Bread Crumbs will not add much value to recipes. It has 110 calories in each half cup. With .5 grams of fat and 24 grams of carbs in that same half cup, Panko Bread Crumbs are better than some other purchased breadcrumbs.  Panko Bread Crumbs have 3 grams of protein and provide 2 % of the daily recommendation of iron. That is the extent of the nutritional benefits of the product.  It is quite high in sodium as well at 40 mg in a half cup, which provides 2% of the daily allowance.

While Kikkoman Japanese Style Bread Crumbs may not be the most nutritional ingredient in recipes, they are far better than many other purchased breadcrumbs. Most of the other types of purchased bread crumbs are very high in sodium, measuring in at up to 19% of the daily allowance in a half cup. In comparison, Panko bread crumbs are a low sodium product.  Many other bread crumbs also have some levels of sugar in them as well as having a higher level of fat. Even though Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs are not the most nutritious item, it is better than most types of bread crumbs.

An advantage to having a package of Panko Bread Crumbs on the pantry shelf is that it is convenient. Whether it is adding a little filler to a meat loaf or quickly coating a piece of fish, Panko breadcrumbs are easy to add to any recipes that one already makes.

Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs are a premiere coating for fish and seafood. The reason it is the best choice for seafood is that is creates a crispy brown crust, but it also creates a good barrier to the seafood itself. This way the crust browns and becomes crispy but the oil does not reach the meat, so the product does not become greasy.

Most often Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs are found in stores plain and unseasoned. Any recipe that uses the product as a coating will need some seasoning. It is lower in sodium than many other similar types of coatings such as cracker crumbs or bread crumbs. If lower sodium is not the purpose in the ingredient choice, a little salt may be added as well as the other seasonings. On chicken breasts or tenders, combine Panko with parmesan cheese and garlic powder. Dip the chicken pieces in a little egg wash and then roll in the crumb mixture before frying. This makes an excellent homemade chicken strip or nugget.

Another way to incorporate Panko in recipes is to combine the Panko with a little olive oil or melted butter. Use as a topping on baked casseroles or macaroni and cheese. It will create a toasty crumb topping that makes the dishes delicious.

Fried zucchini can be made by coating in a little egg wash and then dipping in Panko before frying. Add a half of a cup of Panko crumbs to any type of meatball or meatloaf as a binding to create a moist yet firm product.

Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs is not just for Asian cuisine. It can be incorporated into many other styles of cooking and is very convenient.